Universities have role to enhance biosecurity

A musical concert in honour of the victims of the Garissa University College attack was held in Nairobi on April 14, 2015. Universities should complement government's efforts in reducing threat of biological threats. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • A biosecurity survey carried out in 2015 found that laboratories in Kenya store at least 16 dangerous biological pathogens with less than half of them keeping an inventory

  • It also been reported that dangerous biological agents had disappeared from their stores without trace.
  • Experiences from countries such as Denmark show that life-science universities play a key role in that endeavour.

  • Universities educate lab personnel and are essential in fostering a strong biosecurity.

As Kenya pursues its multi-sectoral approach to the fight against countering violent extremism and terrorism, just like we have asked of other segments of the society, what is the contribution of universities and other researchers in the efforts?

Given that universities are potential recruitment areas and also possible targets of attacks by such violent groups, how prepared are our academic institutions?

Universities need to complement the government’s efforts in creating awareness on bio-security in our institutions aimed at reducing the threat of biological attacks by carrying out research and developing tools that can be used to counter them.

PATHOGENS

Following the Garissa University terrorist attack, the police reported having arrested a number of medical students suspected of carrying out a biological attack in Nairobi in 2016.

A biosecurity survey carried out in 2015 found that laboratories in Kenya store at least 16 dangerous biological pathogens with less than half of them keeping an inventory and two reporting that dangerous biological agents had disappeared from their stores without trace.

It has been reported that Kenya is at risk of a biological event — whether accidental, intentional or naturally occurring — due to the prevalence of dangerous biological pathogens, weak biosecurity measures and violent extremism within its borders.

PROLIFERATION

Biological weapons present serious threats to national, regional and global stability. Aware of the exposure and threats, especially in relation to violent extremism, the government has undertaken a number of initiatives to mitigate the risk of a biological event.

Remember, in addition to the implementation of the country’s violent extremism policy by the National Counter-Terrorism Centre, Kenya, being a signatory to international agreements — including the Biological Weapons Convention and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 — is obligated to take effective measures to prevent proliferation of biological weapons.

Within this requirement, the government has prepared the Biosecurity Bill, which will be presented before Parliament, and is, through an agreement with Denmark, pushing universities to take effective measures aimed at securing biological materials and technology that could otherwise be misused to produce or lead to the proliferation of biological weapons.

CRIMINALS

Experiences from countries such as Denmark show that life-science universities play a key role in that endeavour. Universities educate lab personnel and are essential in fostering a strong biosecurity culture. Moreover, university labs store dangerous biological pathogens.

Facilities, including universities, that access, use, handle, transfer biological materials are key in the fight against use of biological means by criminals. That requires our academic institutions to step up their contribution to the war on biological threat prevention and prohibition non-proliferation obligation to avoid public panic and possible occurrence of incidents of economic disruption and mass destruction.

LIFE-SCIENCE

Hopefully, the partnership between the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (Nacosti), the Commission for University Education (CUE) and the Centre for Biosecurity and Biopreparedness (CBB) under the Government of Denmark, will scale up the integration of biosecurity at universities with clear life-science profiles.

I hope also that the passing of the Biosecurity law will be expedited.

Mr Bwire works at the Media Council of Kenya (MCK). [email protected]

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